State grant helps expand the MAT program’s partnership with Holyoke Public Schools

Mount Holyoke College’s Master of Arts in Teaching program has received a $125,000 state grant to develop a new program to support teachers on emergency licenses in the Holyoke Public Schools district as they pursue initial licensure and their master’s degrees.

Mount Holyoke College’s Master of Arts in Teaching program has received a $125,000 grant from the Commonwealth to develop a new program to support teachers on emergency licenses in the Holyoke Public Schools district as they pursue initial licensure and their master’s degrees.

The new Emergency Teacher Pathway (ETP) will support more than 30 emergency license holders who are already enrolled in the MAT program at Mount Holyoke as they teach full-time in Holyoke Public Schools (HPS).

One key element of the grant is that it will support efforts to enhance teacher diversity in the urban district, which serves one of the most economically disadvantaged cities in the state.

“The ETP has been developed through our work over the past six years with HPS and a range of teachers and districts across the state and especially supports candidates of color and bilingual candidates who are working full-time as they pursue their teacher licenses,” said Catherine Swift, director of teacher licensure programs for the College’s Professional and Graduate Education program, which administers the MAT and other initiatives. “Full-time-employed educators encounter multiple barriers on their path to licensure, including the pressures of juggling work and home. The ETP will address these and other challenges.”

Over the past six years, the MAT program has developed three partnerships with school districts in western Massachusetts — Holyoke Public Schools, Amherst Regional Public Schools and the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

In large part, these partnerships support the districts in efforts to diversify their workforces. According to Swift, the program has been successful in bolstering recruitment and retention of and support for teachers of color in the three local districts. In fact, the program has more than doubled its number of students of color in the past three years, from the state average of 14% to 37%. Fifty percent of participants in the program work in schools as teachers on waivers, on emergency licenses or as paraeducators.

The new infusion of state money will support HPS teachers who are preparing to take state licensure tests. At present, due to the pandemic, many Massachusetts teachers are teaching under provisional or emergency status as they work to study for and pass the Massachusetts Tests for Teacher Licensure (MTEL).

According to Ruth Hornsby, assistant director of teacher licensure programs at Mount Holyoke, one of the greatest challenges working educators face is finding the time and resources to take and pass the state MTEL tests.

“This grant will allow us to provide targeted MTEL classes, as well as tutoring and other wrap-around incentives and supports. This funding will also provide vouchers to offset the hundreds of dollars we know our candidates sometimes spend taking MTELs. We know that these factors are often barriers to taking the test for working teachers.”

In addition to the MAT program’s formal partnerships with the three local districts, teachers from across the state have enrolled in the program in recent years. Among the districts served have been Boston Public Schools, Cambridge Public Schools, Fitchburg Public Schools, Worcester Public Schools, Pittsfield Public Schools, Great Barrington Public Schools and Lynn Public Schools.

Teachers working today in Holyoke and other districts are proof of the MAT program’s power. In Holyoke alone, 25 teachers have graduated from the program in the past three years, with eight more slated to graduate this year. Graduate students in the program secure both state licensure and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

For Jazebel Bermudez Vera, who completed the Mount Holyoke graduate program in 2020 while teaching at Holyoke’s William J. Dean Tech High School, the experience has been life-changing for herself and her students: “Mount Holyoke has opened so many doors for me and accepted me as a person. I am constantly recommending this program to other teachers within the Holyoke, Springfield and Chicopee areas who have walked in shoes similar to mine. The children in our schools need mirror reflections of themselves as their mentors, leaders and supporters. My kids know where I grew up, and I’m not ashamed to say that I was born and raised in Holyoke in the poorest area. If anything, they know that they also can break past all barriers and succeed in their lives to be what they want to be.”

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